25 Miles South of Marathon, FL
1st Funnel of the year on video
March 21, 2002
Who would have guessed that my fishing trip would end up being a mega funnel experience? It was just a stroke of luck that the only place to film a waterspout was offshore. If you stayed onshore hoping the action would move in--you missed out. Here is the skinny:
With light winds forecast, my fishing buddy Paul and I made plans to head out Thursday to a few of his secret spots 25 miles offshore. I like it flat calm out there but 10 mph or less I can handle just fine. Nothing is worse than being seasick 2 hours from shore.
So at 6:30am we headed out to catch some Snowy Grouper in 800 feet of water. Waterspouts were the last thing on my mind but I always keep my video camera with me wherever I go-even to lunch at a restaurant. Our spot was due south of Marathon but our course heading about 210 degrees (instead of 180) to account for the drift caused by the strong Gulf Stream current.
About 20 miles out I noticed a line of cumulus clouds perpendicular to us about 2 miles away. Normally I'm looking for telltale seabirds and debris floating on the water but the cumulus line was gaining height so I focused on the developing sky. All of a sudden, as if a switch were turned on, funnels starting appearing from the base of the cumulus line. I counted 4, with one dropping halfway down to the water. I gave the heads-up to Paul who was driving so he could steer clear of them. Since they hadn't come down all the way he wasn't too concerned that they were right in our path!
To our east I saw a much bigger and taller cumulus line and there was a really big spout underneath the highest "stack". It was a long way off and we stood no chance of getting to it in time even we wanted to. I was wishing we were only 3 miles further east to catch that behemoth. So right now I counted 4 funnels and one big spout in the distance. This was around 7:55am. I thought the show was over as we closed in on our fishing area.
Twenty minutes later a big cumulus cloud directly in our path about a mile away produced a funnel that dropped halfway down. Humm, a good sign I thought. I still didn't get too excited because while it was fairly calm, the boat was rocking and filming would have been very difficult. This funnel dissipated about 10 minutes later. Normally waterspouts tilt and decay when rain cooled air disrupts their inflow. I didn't see any rain with this cloud--odd I thought.
We finally arrived out our GPS coordinates 15 minutes later and dropped multiple hooks baited with California squid in 800 feet of water. About the time the 5 pound lead weight hit the bottom another funnel appears from the same big cumulus cloud. Oh great I thought. This funnel stretched all the way down to the surface and (this really got me excited now) sucked up water. Yes, there was the spray ring!
I was the boat driver and had to keep the boat pointed in the direction of the current while Paul had his hands full with so much line out. Even with the engine running at 900 rpm we are losing ground to the current. All of a sudden Paul hooks up a big fish. I kept looking at that beautiful waterspout and then noticed a small sailboat near it. That's it, I'm getting the video camera out. I grabbed the Sony TRV-900 in a Sports Pac housing from the front of the boat and held her steady and let the tape roll. Unfortunately, the ride out had caused some salt spray to get on the lens. Darn. I cleaned it off with my shirt and tried again. It worked fine for about 2 minutes before the zoom/focus controls on the housing went screwy. The camera wouldn't focus at infinity for some odd reason. So I had to pull the camera out of the housing and film with the camera exposed to possible salt spray. More precious time lost. Ug, the gremlins that will mess up those precious shooting seconds!
Having captured a few minutes of the spout, I put the camera down, pointed the boat into the current and moved the throttle slightly forward to hold our position. Paul had hooked up a big fish and was cranking it in the whole time. As it neared the surface you could see a tremendous light blue object coming up from the deep. It was beautiful. I grabbed the gaff and landed the fish (see pic). Whew, we did it . . . I filmed the spout and we didn't lose the fish!
We didn't see any more spouts but we did catch a cooler full of fish throughout the day. It was beautiful out there offshore--calm winds, cobalt blue water, lots of fish, waterspouts, even watched the sun set on the way in. It doesn't get any better!